The Great Debate About Grains and Flour Alternatives

A science of trial-and-error

I know, first we spoiled the egg after discovering that it was dangerously high in LDL, the bad cholesterol. Then the infamous “they” found that the infamous egg contained the enzymes necessary to breakdown LDL, so it wasn’t a threat at all. Thus, eggs went from staple food to dastardly to “the incredible edible egg.”

Meanwhile, the flame for margarine was cooling as research revealed that it hardens in the body and clogs arteries, ultimately killing people.

We’ve learned that diet plans are intensely personal and that fish oil is only a great source of EFAs if it doesn’t cause your throat to close and hives to break out.

Therefore, it’s with the notion in mind of tasting and seeing, personalizing your nutrition, learning through trial-and-error that I present to you the current data concerning whole grains, along with a few grain-free flour recommendations for your pantry. Depending on your needs, these could be wonderful additions or replacements to your white and whole grain flour supply.

What happened to “great” grains?

I won’t go into the issues surrounding bleached or highly processed wheat flour. I will briefly say that it makes a fluffy pancake but ain’t good for you. Look it up.

Regarding whole grains, presently there is much banter on opposing sides. Some condemn the little kernels, asserting that common grains like corn are probably killing us slowly one cob at a time. Others are appalled at the accusation and swear by the contribution of whole grains to health, nourishment and everlasting bliss. (exaggeration mine)

I don’t wish to tell you that grains are evil. Some do, (okay they don’t say evil, but bad) such as Loren Cordain, PhD, a leading expert on the Paleolithic (aka the “caveman”) diet. In addition to Cordain is a slew of writers reporting on the dangers of whole grains. There’s science for both sides. There’s still much to be understood.

Feeling better begins by consuming foods that are gentler on your body. Even medical doctors and licensed naturopaths use an age-old, simple method of deciding the best health plan for you: the process of elimination, which basically means, try it on and if the shoe fits, wear it; and if it don’t, spare it.

What’ve they got against the grain?

There are dozens of reasons why whole grains could be taxing your body. If you have major or minor health challenges and no one can figure out the cause, or if you just feel like your motor’s not running like it used to, consider the grain factor. You could stand to benefit by cutting down or out your consumption of gluten or all whole grains.

If you’re working within a systematic diet plan, then the chemical balance of the foods you are (and aren’t) eating is vital. To be successful on the Atkins diet, for example, you must eliminate carbs for the specified time. To be a real vegetarian you must not eat meat. But in general, to be well, we need to be willing to try new things and make changes as needed.

Reason #1: Improved Nutrient Absorption

Whole grains include wheat, corn, oats, barley, rice and rye, to name a few. While some of these don’t contain any of the now infamous gluten, all grains contain a bran layer, and the bran contains phytic acid. According to our current knowledge, phytic acid can pose a threat to the body’s nourishment. The acid binds with minerals including phosphorous, zinc, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper, thus blocking the absorption of the nutrients into your body. Symptoms of these mineral deficiencies can range widely from eczema, acne, brittle hair and dandruff, to a weak immune system, osteoperosis, tooth decay and low-energy or fatigue. The best way to assess whether whole grains are making it harder for your body to absorb nutrients is to decrease or eliminate consumption for two weeks and see how you feel.

Alternative #1: If you love breads and baked goods, but are hopeful to see improvement to your health by cutting down on grains, try coconut flour. It’s high in fiber, has a low glycemic index rating, is low in carbs and gluten free. It also contains protein without the gluten.

While coconut flour contains phytic acid, studies have found that it does not show the same binding power as that of grains, which could be because of other enzymes in the fruit. Conclusion: coconut flour has little to no effect on mineral absorption. (1) It’s also delicious and can often be substituted either in part or in full for wheat flour. For fantastic recipes, check out Bruce Fife’s “Baking with Coconut Flour.”

Reason #2: Relief From Food Intolerance

Allergic reactions are severe and, therefore, easy to detect. However, with food intolerance the effects can be subtle and gradual. You may also be fine when ingesting small amounts, which means you could avoid intolerance symptoms simply by cutting down consumption. If it helps you to jump in, start out modestly and see if you begin to feel a difference. If a change is apparent but too slight, it may be time to take drastic measures into delightful health.

Alternative #2: Almonds are actually not a true nut, but, like coconuts, a drupe, which is a fruit. Almond flour, or meal, is high in fiber and protein with lots of good fat (which actually helps you burn fat!), vitamin E and magnesium. It also contains smaller but notable amounts of iron and calcium. Almond meal is available in most stores, or if you have a coffee grinder and some almonds, you can make it at home. For recipes check out Elana Amsterdam’s “The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook.”

Reason #3: Reduce or Eliminate Inflammation

Symptoms of inflammation can include bloating, weight gain and migraine headaches, as well as less obvious conditions as acne, eczema, acid reflux and bronchitis. More serious conditions involving inflammation are cancer and heart disease. Grains containing gluten should be the first to go to test dietary causes for your inflammation. You could be among the estimated 95% of Celiacs going undiagnosed, (2) and if any food is irritating your body, it’s likely it’s causing inflammation.

Beyond gluten, the omega-6 and lectin protein found in whole grains are known to increase inflammation, although this is true most prominently in refined grains. Whole grains can also tend to rank higher on the glycemic index, causing spikes to blood sugar, which also triggers inflammation.

Alternative #3: Buckwheat, which when toasted is also called Kasha, is actually part of the anti-inflammation diet. According to the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Counsel, “It contains rutin, a bioflavonoid thought to help control blood pressure and possess anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.” (3)

Buckwheat is not wheat at all, nor is it any grain, but actually a seed. It’s high in fiber and protein; and rich in vitamins and minerals such as potassium, manganese (necessary for stabilizing blood sugar), magnesium, copper, and iron; thiamin, niacin and vitamin B-6; and essential amino acids. It’s versatile and easy to find. For recipes, check out Michelle Brewster’s “Delicious Gluten-free Baking with Buckwheat Flour.”

With all my heart I encourage you to have fun discovering what makes your body tick. No matter what you eat, good health and a vibrant life require hope, faith and love, and the greatest of these is love.

(1) Trinidad P. Trinidad, Divinagracia H. Valdez, Aida C. Mallillin, Faridah C. Askafi, Joan C. Castillo, Anacleta S. Loyola, Dina B. Masa. “THE EFFECT OF COCONUT FLOUR ON MINERAL AVAILABILITY FROM COCONUT FLOUR SUPPLEMENTED FOODS” accessed 2/25/13

(2) Dr. Christine Doherty, ND. “Don’t Let Food Allergies Get You Down” accessed 2/25/13

(3) Grains & Legumes Nutrition Counsel. accessed 2/25/13

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